Moontower Comedy Fest announces first wave of performers; badges on sale now

The Paramount Theatre, which produces Austin’s annual Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival, has announced the early lineup of comedians who will appear in 2016 and has placed discounted, early bird badges on sale. The festival takes place from April 20-23, 2016 at venus throughout Austin.

Martin_ShortSlated performers thus far include Martin Short, Kevin Smith, Maria Bamford, Jim Norton, Debra DiGiovanni, Piff the Magic Dragon, Sklar Brothers, Ron Funches, and Anjelah Johnson (who will present her popular character Bon Qui Qui’s Gold Plated Dreams Tour featuring Group 1 Crew).

Short, Smith, Bamford and Johnson will headline on the Paramount Theater stage, while writer, comedian, podcaster, and film director Smith will also present a live taping of his “Jay and Silent Bob Get Old” podcast with buddy Jason Mewes as a special badge-only event.

Returning favorites include Andy Kindler, James Adomian and the Sklar Brothers, and newcomers include new “Saturday Night Live” cast member Jon Rudnitsky and “America’s Got Talent’s” Piff the Magic Dragon.

Here’s the current list of performers:

James Adomian, Maria Bamford, Ahmed Bharoocha, Joe DeRosa, Debra DiGiovanni, Sean Donnelly, Jo Firestone, Ron Funches, Goddamn Comedy Jam, Angela Johnson, Jesse Joyce, Andy Kindler, The Lampshades, Matteo Lane, Annie Lederman, Joe List, Josh Adam Meyers, Jim Norton, Johnny Pemberton, Piff the Magic Dragon, Tony Rock, Jon Rudnitsky, Martin Short, Sklar Brothers, Kevin Smith, Beth Stelling, Brad Williams, and Jenny Zigrino.

Moontower FAN, ACE, and VIP badges are now on sale at an early bird discount at www.moontowercomedyfest.com, at the Paramount Theatre box office, or by calling 512-474-1221. Single-show tickets for Paramount headliner shows will go on sale at a later date.

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‘You Made It Weird,’ Vulcan Gas Co. show part of Saturday Moontower highlights

(Left to right) T.J. Miller,
(Left to right) T.J. Miller,Kate Berlant, Emily Hill and David O’Doherty are guests on the Pete Holmes podcast, “You Made It Weird,” taped at the Google Fiber stage as part of Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival Saturday night. Credit: Omar L. Gallaga/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival has gotten large enough that missing a headliner show can often be a blessing in disguise.

I was determined to see Maria Bamford Saturday evening at Stateside at the Paramount, but the show had already filled up by the time arrived and my festival badge wasn’t going to get me in. It was heartbreaking; going into the festival, she was my biggest highlight next to John Mulaney, but I tried to be Zen about it. I saw her last year, I got to interview her on the phone and she was delightful, and I got to see her at the Thursday night “Dr. Katz” performance. Yes, it stung a bit, but I would live.

So on the advice of a very helpful Moontower staffer outside of Stateside, I made my way down to the Google Fiber space at around 7 p.m. to catch the Pete Holmes “You Made It Weird” podcast recording.

I’m not a regular listener to the podcast, but the episodes I’ve heard have been funny, fresh and thoroughly honest (though they often top out at 2 hours or longer). The recording at the Google Fiber space was no different. The guests included Emily Heller, Kate Berlant and, at the very tail end, headliner co-host T.J. Miller, a longtime friend of Holmes.

There were great, rambling stories about IUDs, psychics, shoplifting and Dubai, but for me the highlight was David O’Doherty, a ridiculously talented Irish keyboardist, now bearded, who says he’s often confused for Chris O’Dowd. O’Doherty performed a song about having short legs that was one of my favorite moments of the entire festival. (The version he performed had a few differences from the video below.)

The episode should be up on Nerdist sometime soon.

I headed over to Vulcan Gas Company for a little while before I needed to head to Paramount Theatre for the late John Mulaney show.

Ophira Eisenberg performs at Vulcan Gas Company Saturday night as part of Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival. Credit: Omar L. Gallaga / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Ophira Eisenberg performs at Vulcan Gas Company Saturday night as part of Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival. Credit: Omar L. Gallaga / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Comedian Eddie Pepitone performs at Vulcan Gas Company as part of Moontower Comedy and Oddity festival Saturday night. Credit: Omar L. Gallaga / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Comedian Eddie Pepitone performs at Vulcan Gas Company as part of Moontower Comedy and Oddity festival Saturday night. Credit: Omar L. Gallaga / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

They were short sets, but I was lucky enough to catch host Matt Bearden, and comics Ophira Eisenberg (from NPR’s “Ask Me Another”) who told the nerdiest triangle joke I’ve ever heard (I still laughed) and the great Eddie Pepitone, who railed angrily against social media and Spotify and ended up stopping his set short when a huge audience applause break provided the perfect exit.

Great stuff and a perfect lead-in to the excellent John Mulaney late show where I also became a fan of openers Simon Amstell, a brilliant British comedian to watch and Austin’s John Ramsey.

Marc Maron’s river of rage: surprisingly crowd-pleasing at Moontower Fest!

Marc Maron performs at the Paramount Theatre on Thursday, April 23, as part of Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival. Credit: Birdsong Imaging, Mandy Earnshaw, contributed by Moontwoer
Marc Maron performs at the Paramount Theatre on Thursday, April 23, as part of Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival. Credit: Birdsong Imaging, Mandy Earnshaw, contributed by Moontwoer

Long-time listeners of Marc Maron’s popular interview podcast, “WTF With Marc Maron” and even viewers of his IFC TV show, “Maron” know that an angry, perplexed Marc Maron is a great Maron (at least for the audience). Maron spews invective and holds grudges with the best of them and seeing, or hearing, his barely concealed ire let loose is a beautiful thing.

It’s even better when beneath it all it seems like he’s in a genuinely good mood as he was Thursday night for a 9:30 p.m. show at the Paramount Theatre as a Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival headliner. Clad in a blue plaid shirt, boots and his hipster-adjacent mustache and glasses, Maron was more playful than you might expect from a comedian who makes frequent hay of emotional damage, failed relationships and the struggles of being a 51-year-old man who lives alone and talks to cats.

Though it sounds from his act that his relationships are a mess (unlike most comedians, when Maron talks about his dating life, you get the sense he’s being completely honest), Maron was in fine form Thursday night, delivering both forceful assaults from his self-described “River of rage,” but also interacting with the audience for their various uses of “Wooo!” delivering a bit of improvised physical comedy involving moving a stool, microphone stand and mic cable, and at one point allowing a rolling water bottle to upstage him.

Even when he was berating an audience member for staring at him oddly (“What do you need, man!?”), Maron never seemed as misanthropic or damaged as his past comedic work has suggested. In fact, no matter how far he went into material about sex (bodily fluids figured largely into the act’s final minutes), into the pleasures of yelling at others or even biting the hand that feeds him at the fest (“Whose dumb idea were these hanging things?” he asked about the set decorations), he came across as more lovable than pathetic, a guy who’s found himself by embracing his angry side.

Maybe it’s that this fan of BBQ loves Austin and has found the only place with more hipsters than his gentrified neighborhood in Los Angeles. In fact, he warned Austinites, “If you want to keep Austin weird, stop building so many (expletive) hotels,” Maron said. “This is the hipster Alamo, you must defend it.”

If there was a running thread in his hour-long set about zombie Jesus, childhood traumas and ice cream overindulgence, it was his “Inner blogger voice,” an ongoing third-person critique of the show with dispatches about each joke’s reception, each ending with, “More later.” It’s becoming a regular bit of business for a lot of comedians to comment on the show as the show is happening (Maria Bamford and Jim Gaffigan are among comics who employ it), and in someone less comfortable on stage and, let’s face it, less self-lacerating, it would have become tiresome.

But Maron has somehow come out of his years of struggle, self-defeat and frustration as that rarest thing: a polished, stressed gem who also happens to deliver consistent, deep laughter. Maron is definitely his own thing, thank goodness for us.

Marc Maron will be on hand at 6 p.m. Friday for a screening of the first episode of the third season of “Maron” at the Paramount. At 7:30 p.m., he’s scheduled to be part of “Dr. Katz Live” at Stateside at the Paramount.

The old magic returns in fits and starts at Moontower’s ‘Dr. Katz Live’

Jonathan Katz (left) and Dana Gould (right) do a therapy session at Stateside at the Paramount on Thursday, April 23, as part of Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival. Credit: Birdsong Imaging, Mandy Earnshaw, contributed by Moontower
Jonathan Katz (left) and Dana Gould (right) do a therapy session at Stateside at the Paramount on Thursday, April 23, as part of Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival. Credit: Birdsong Imaging, Mandy Earnshaw, contributed by Moontower

“Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist” started as a low-budget, low-key animated show on Comedy Central show just a few years before “South Park” would become the animated show the network would become known for. It featured stand-up comics doing some of their material playing against the bone-dry wit of comedian Jonathan Katz, who played a put-upon therapist with a passive-aggressive secretary (Laura Silverman) and a dopey, lovable, layabout son (the brilliant H. Jon Benjamin, who’s become a voiceover star with “Bob’s Burgers” and “Archer”).

Despite rosters of impressive comedic talent and a cleverly home-brewed animated style that became easy to love the more you watched it, the show was never a gigantic hit. At a live performance Thursday night as part of the Moontower Comedy Festival, I heard more people before the show explaining what the show was to others than recollections of bits from the show. “Dr. What?” one older gentleman asked his companion, who was about 25 years younger. The show was explained.

Another guy, sitting behind me at the show, explained to his friends, “I used to watch it, but I was too young to understand it when it was on in the early ’90s. I was 14.”

On stage, the energy was a little different, sometimes flailing, other times absolutely matching perfectly in tone what those of us who remember the show fondly came to see. Jonathan Katz, who moves slowly with a cane due to multiple sclerosis, did a few minutes of stand-up comedy at a microphone before the main set and it began with a rape joke. As horrible as date rape is, Katz suggested, even worse would be “Double-date rape.”

Improbably, the joke earned laughs, as did the rest of Katz’s short set, which mostly consisted of well-crafted wordplay and, memorably, short musical performances of Beatles, Rolling Stones and Eagles songs performed Bar Mitzvah-style. Who knew Dr. Katz (not a real therapist) could sing?

But the meat of the show was mock-therapy sessions featuring comedians Dana Gould, Andy Kindler, Maria Bamford, Dom Irrera and Emo Philps, all of whom had appeared on the original show except Bamford. On the stage, two chairs and a fern were set up, though Irrera complained multiple times that he missed the couch and was hoping for some cuddling.

Gould went topic with material about Bruce Jenner, joking that he’s confused about respecting Jenner’s privacy now as a transgender individual given the distinct complete opposite of privacy we’ve come to expect from the Kardashian clan.

Bamford turned out to fit right in and got some of the biggest laughs with material about her new marriage and a ridiculous song about her couples’ therapist.

Andy Kindler appeared with a non-working wireless microphone and, as Kindler does, turned the awkwardness into its own hilarious bit. “This is the story of my life, Dr. Katz,” he whined, as the microphone was swapped out. Kindler went trademark-meta, asking if he’s using humor as a defense mechanism (“No,” Katz said definitively, to huge laughs) and exclaiming, “even my psychiatrist has better material!”

As on the original show, Irrera got weird and overly affectionate quickly, having left a voice mail for Katz and asking for some snuggle time.

But it was Emo Philips who perhaps captured the original spirit of the show best with his quirky timing. While much of the show had the awkward pauses (completely appropriate for “Dr. Katz) that came with mixing improv with prepared bits, Philips’s felt most like the the animated series, with Katz serving as more of a straight man than a fellow comic breaking the fourth wall.

Apart from the Kindler microphone gaffe, there were other timing issues. It took a while for the show to begin after an introductory Moontower Fest video was shown and sometimes the lengthy pauses and fits-and-starts pacing of the therapy sessions felt less than intentional. But it was a delight to hear Laura Silverman’s familiar, grumpy voice played as an intro to each comic. And the play-off music meant to signal the end of a therapy session turned out to be its own comedic highlight as it always seemed to happen just as a comic was making a point or on the edge of a revelation. It was all about timing and the joy of getting a large dose of Katz’s absurdist, punchline-driven humor, which still kills.

On the matter of an aunt’s death, Katz revealed to Kindler that she was cremated. “We think that’s what did it,” he said.

The show happens again 7:30 p.m. Friday night at Stateside at the Paramount.

Never caught the original show? Here’s some classic bits: